Disabling the Body Politic

Christina Doonan


The metaphor of the 'body politic' is an apparently optimistic one, as it is supposed to signal the relationality and connectedness of all members of the whole. This paper argues that the metaphor does not deliver on its potential because it associates illness and disability with lack of quality of life. I argue that the embodied experience of chronic illness or disability can inform political virtues that would be salutary for a body politic confronting a health-based crisis such as the COVID-19 pandemic, and which challenge the assumptions of the body politic as traditionally constituted. I begin by drawing on scholarly treatments of the body politic to demonstrate that the body has consistently been idealized as able-bodied, and illness and disability are framed as inconsistent with quality of life or the functioning of the whole. In part two of the article, I draw upon Eli Clare's autoethnographic reflection entitled The Mountain as a starting point for re-imagining the body politic as disabled or chronically ill. I propose two political virtues that might be drawn from such a re-imagining: reflexivity and the recognition of limits. In part three, I argue that in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, during which disability and chronic illness are foregrounded as important political issues, disabled and chronically ill people offer key insights, advocating a politics of relationality that has its starting point in their own disabled or chronically ill bodies.


COVID-19; chronic illness; politics

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.18061/dsq.v41i3.8393

Copyright (c) 2021 Christina Doonan

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